'Humanity is on thin ice:' Major UN report says 'urgent' action is needed to combat climate change

"Urgent" actions are needed to counter human-caused climate change, says a report released Monday by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

"Without urgent, effective, and equitable mitigation and adaptation actions, climate change increasingly threatens ecosystems, biodiversity, and the livelihoods, health and wellbeing of current and future generations," according to the report, released Monday in Interlaken, Switzerland.

Reports by the IPCC are considered the planet's most authoritative assessments of the state of global warming, its consequences and the measures being taken to tackle it.

“Humanity is on thin ice – and that ice is melting fast,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said. “Our world needs climate action on all fronts – everything, everywhere, all at once.”


The report isn't all doom and gloom: It also said there are many feasible and effective options to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to human-caused climate change, and they are available now.

IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee said that "if we act now, we can still secure a livable sustainable future for all.”

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'Hurtling down the road to ruin'

Environmental groups were quick to praise the report's findings:

“This is the stone-cold truth laid out in unassailable science by the world’s top climate experts," said Manish Bapna, president and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

"We’re hurtling down the road to ruin and running out of time to change course," Bapna said. "We’re leaving the most vulnerable among us to pay a price they can’t afford for a crisis they didn’t cause. We’re condemning our children to a world of cascading disasters."

Kelly Trout, co-director of the environmental group Oil Change International, said, "The science is crystal-clear: We must take immediate action to phase out fossil fuels if we're to keep the 1.5 degree (Celsius) limit alive and stave off devastation to people and ecosystems worldwide.

"The IPCC has shown the fossil fuel phase-out must start now, and wind, solar, and energy efficiency are the keys this decade, not fossil-fuel-industry-favored techno-fixes like carbon capture and storage."

The report "underlines how important it is to not only accelerate climate action but to do it in a way that helps everyone in the world, not just those in the wealthiest countries and regions," said Christopher Trisos, a co-author and director of the Climate Risk Lab at the African Climate and Development Initiative.

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What is the IPCC?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is the U.N. body for assessing the science related to climate change, its consequences and adaptation and mitigation strategies. It provides periodic assessments to the leaders of its 195 member states.

This report is the culmination of an eight-year-long series of climate science papers, the sixth assessment since the IPCC was established in 1988. Over the past six years, hundreds of authors in three working groups reviewed thousands of academic papers with the latest science.

  • August 2021: The release of the Working Group I report – a "code red for humanity" – said climate change is clearly human-caused and “unequivocal," made more precise and warmer forecasts than ever, and warned that some effects of global warming are already inevitable.

  • February 2022: When Working Group II published its report, co-chair Hans-Otto Pörtner warned that "some parts of the planet will become uninhabitable." Many of the changes already seen are unprecedented in thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of years, the report said, and others already in motion – such as a rise in sea levels – may be irreversible.

  • April 2022: Working Group III found average annual greenhouse gas emissions from 2010 to 2019 were higher than any decade on record and outlined how further temperature increases will multiply the risk of floods, storms, drought and heat waves. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said the report revealed "a litany of broken climate promises."

  • March 2023: This final product synthesizes key information from previous reports.

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How much has the globe warmed?

Governments had agreed in the 2015 Paris climate accord to keep global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) this century, ideally no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit). Top scientists say this is the level beyond which catastrophic changes could occur.

Yet temperatures have already increased by more than 1.1 C (2 degrees F) since pre-industrial times, resulting in measurable increases in disasters such as flash floods, prolonged droughts, more intense hurricanes and longer-burning wildfires – putting human lives in danger and costing governments hundreds of billions of dollars.

Global warming "has resulted in more frequent and more intense extreme weather events that have caused increasingly dangerous impacts on nature and people in every region of the world," the IPCC reported. "Every increment of warming results in rapidly escalating hazards. More intense heat waves, heavier rainfall and other weather extremes further increase risks for human health and ecosystems."

The key question facing the globe is whether the global average temperature increase, now warming at 0.2 degrees a decade, can be held to 1.5 degrees. Experts say that has become increasingly unlikely.

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In January, federal scientists warned that 2024 could contend for the warmest year on record and that the 1.5-degree global average threshold could be reached in the 2030s.

The pathways that would have limited warming to 1.5 degrees called for emissions to peak before 2025 and begin dropping, but so far emissions have continued rising, although at a slower rate than before, World Resources Institute officials said this week.

"Without a very significant shift in the direction of travel very soon we’re likely to blow past 1.5 degrees early in the 2030s," said David Waskow, the Institute's international climate director.

A closing window of opportunity

Among the report's key findings:

  • Human activities, principally through greenhouse emissions, have unequivocally caused global warming, driving widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere.

  • Climate change is a threat to human well-being and planetary health. There is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a more livable and sustainable future for all.

  • Deep, rapid and sustained mitigation and faster movement toward adaptation in this decade would reduce losses and damages and deliver many co-benefits, especially for air quality and health.

  • Vulnerable communities that have contributed the least to current climate change are being disproportionately affected.

  • Deep, rapid and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions would lead to a discernible slowdown in global warming within about two decades.

  • Current investment and funding for adaptation is insufficient, especially in developing countries.

Dig deeper

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: UN climate change report: IPCC says 'urgent' action is needed